Melanie Dower, Finland

Who are you?

I’m Melanie, a New Zealander living in Helsinki, Finland, with my husband and our young son Miko.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

We moved to Helsinki a year ago for my husband’s job. He was given an opportunity too good to miss. We arrived in spring 2014, which is the perfect season to arrive in Finland.What challenges did you face during the move?

Our families are very supportive, but it is tough on our parents not being able to spend time with their grandson. It takes around 26 hours to fly here, and when you step off that final plane you really do feel as though you are on the other side of the world.

Are there many other expats in your area?

Yes, Finland seems to be opening up more in terms of immigration than it has in the past. I find expat groups on Facebook useful for advice but otherwise try to meet Finnish people just as much.

What do you like about life where you are?

Life feels somehow simpler here. We are very affected by the seasons in terms of activities and food – even the amount of sleep we need due to the amount of daylight hours. People tend to finish work around 16.30 and we walk or ride our bikes everywhere, which makes life very easy. Although we have left our family behind in NZ, the quality of life for our little family of three is much better than we had at home.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

I’m a social person who is naturally drawn to the sun. Sometimes I feel I’m living in the wrong place as Finnish people are generally quite reserved and yet it’s also a good challenge and a chance to enjoy new things. I find my lack of Finnish language skills a real challenge at times as most official correspondence and business is conducted in Finnish.

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between
your new country and life back home?

Finns are less likely than Kiwis to chat to strangers or engage in small talk and I notice a lack of interaction amongst people on the streets. This also means however that there is very little harassment, even when people start drinking. I feel very safe here in Finland.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

Learn some Finnish, get out there and meet people and say yes to new experiences.

What are your plans for the future?

To see more of Finland beyond Helsinki, to try avanto (ice swimming after a sauna), to meet Santa Claus at Rovaniemi and to see the Northern Lights.

Mel shares more information about life in Finland through her blog, Hey Helsinki.